HR excellence recognized at BC HRMA awards

Victoria’s Capital Regional District, HR advisor, consultant honoured
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/15/2012

In little more than one year in the HR department at Omicron Canada, Tyler Cheyne reduced late and inaccurate timesheet submissions by 75 per cent. He took charge of the end-user portion of the company’s Timesheet software and redesigned the employee orientation for the system.

“The biggest issue was people’s comfort with the system. There are certain levels of ability that people have with learning a new system and (it’s about) catering to the different levels of need and helping those who may need a bit more assistance,” said Cheyne, HR advisor at the 200-employee company based in Vancouver.

Cheyne’s efforts helped him earn this year’s Rising Star Award from the British Columbia Human Resources Management Association (BC HRMA), presented at its annual conference in Vancouver in late April.

Through live training and continued followups, Cheyne was able to make the Timesheet process much smoother for employees.

“Whenever someone doesn’t understand how to fully use a software system, they feel a sense of frustration and, I think, to alleviate that frustration by clearly communicating how to use the system, the result is just happiness — losing that frustration,” he said.

Cheyne was able to reduce the time HR spent on managing the system by 66 per cent. The billing cycle was also reduced from two weeks to one week, which resulted in improved cash flow and more timely reporting, he said.

He was also highly involved in developing a demographic and skills analysis profile within the company’s construction and design disciplines.

To do this, he worked with leadership to design a survey — that all employees were required to complete — to capture their skill sets. This was accompanied by a self-assessment and manager assessment to determine skills mastery and years of experience.

“The result was taking all that data and transferring it to charts and graphs that demonstrated areas on the team where there was a strength within a certain skill or where there perhaps was a gap,” said Cheyne.

The skills profile, which took about 18 months to complete, is now being used in the company’s workforce planning.

“It helped to build a targeted recruitment strategy that addressed skill and experience gaps and it created an accurate forecast of training budgets and training planning for technical areas,” he said. “The information is so valuable.”

HR Professional of the Year

When Eileen Stewart was head of the HR program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in Burnaby, B.C., from 1999 to 2007, she completely turned the program around. When she first started, the program was accepting anyone who applied but by the time she left, 200 people were vying for 40 positions, she said.

“The competition to get into the program went up hugely… so it meant you got really good-calibre students,” said Stewart, a Vancouver-based HR consultant. “It was considered in the School of Business to be the flagship program.”

Her work with the program led Stewart to receive the HR Professional of the Year Award from BC HRMA.

Stewart interviewed every applicant to the program and worked with faculty colleagues to develop extensive screening criteria. Almost every individual accepted to the two-year program had a degree and work experience, she said.

“We really treated it as if they were being interviewed for work,” said Stewart. “We looked at their ability to work in teams, their critical thinking skills, analytical skills, their relationship skills.”

The revitalization of the program included reviewing the curriculum (which was altered to be more business-focused), recruiting and retaining good staff, encouraging staff connections within the business community and creating new market awareness of the value of HR grads as ideal hires.

The program was “noted for turning out superb grads,” she said, and about 80 per cent of them found full-time work within three months of graduating.

“It’s a very tough program… and the HR community knows what those grads are like and wants to have the pick of the litter that comes out of there, for sure,” said Quinne Davey, business development project manager at BC HRMA.

In the mid-1990s, Stewart was working with the City of Vancouver and championed the training and development of staff to help them become more customer-focused, she said. Her efforts resulted in a $2-million annual investment from the city and marked the first time it had devoted resources to the development of its employees.

Award of Excellence: Innovation

Organizational performance was one of Capital Regional District’s (CRD’s) top five objectives in its 2007 strategic plan. Out of this emerged a three-year strategic HR plan to drive a corporate culture shift, with leadership development a key priority, said Sarah Hood, manager of workforce development and strategies at the 700-employee regional government in Victoria.

CRD partnered with Royal Roads University in Victoria to create a leadership development program called iLead — Integrated Leadership Education Assessment and Development — which earned CRD the Award of Excellence: Innovation from BC HRMA.

The program included eight full days of learning over a four-month period — including a five-day intensive program at the university. There were three initial cohorts, which began in 2009, and participation was mandatory for all managers.

“We had some pushback at the beginning — ‘Oh, I’ve done this before,’ ‘I did leadership training when I worked for the government,’ ‘I’m about to retire, I don’t need to do this,’ but once the first group went through, people were trying to edge up into the second group because it was a very powerful program for them,” said Hood.

A fourth cohort was added in 2011 and, so far, 88 leaders have gone through the program.

Over the five-day intensive period, leaders were given a business case study to solve which was a real problem CRD was facing. They had five days to come up with an appropriate solution and were required to present their findings on the last day to CRD executives.

The managers were divided into teams of five that were multi-level, said Hood.

“To have a front-line supervisor sitting at the same table as a general manager, working on the same team, everybody took their hats off. It was absolutely amazing to see how they peeled off those authority layers,” she said. “It was a really equalizing and empowering experience.”

The iLead program was successful in shifting the company culture and employees’ view of leadership. From 2008 to 2010, employee perception of leadership dynamics rose by 11.5 per cent, said Hood.

The culture shift is also seen in the language leaders and employees use — rather than focusing on weaknesses when faced with a problem, they are looking at strengths, she said.

“We’re doing that with our performance management conversations, our programs and services, and how we collaborate with each other,” said Hood. “We’re starting with what’s working well and that’s a massive shift for such a big, clunky, traditional organization like a regional government.”

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